Going back to newspapering was farthest from my mind, but it seems that being a politician (albeit on furlough), I was expected to say “yes” (even if grudgingly), or “we’ll see” (the politic way of saying “nyes” – my neologism derived from the Russian “nyet” meaning “no”, which is what was really intended, and “yes”, which is the sound that unfortunately comes out in the end) but never “no”. Politicians are never supposed to say no.
But I did say no a couple of times in the past when pressed by persistent friends in the media to write for their papers – precisely because I was in politics. Not that I didn’t want to – but that I had to. Oh, I’ve written for school papers since high school, contributed a few articles to national and local dailies and magazines, and wrote a column “The Bottom Line” in Panay News when I was a callow lawyer with more than three-piece suits than clients or court cases of my own, and my dear old friend Danny Fajardo was more of an insurance salesman, transport operator and general practitioner of all sorts of business than a newspaperman.
Those were during the Marcos years when writing for a public audience was done at the writer’s risk. Fun years, really, when one looks back. But I quit my public writing when I assumed a political position in government as an appointed OIC Provincial Board Member for the Province of Iloilo in 1986 soon after EDSA. (I never stopped writing privately for my own distraction – prose and poetry that never saw print, stage plays only one of which got staged, love letters to no one in particular, squiggles and doodles on table napkins while nursing numberless beers and listening to jazz and which proved impossible to decipher the following morning because the napkins were soggy and what seemed like lines for a masterpiece the night before looked like hieroglyphs or scribblings of a madman in the light of day. I did continue to write for our law office just to keep body and soul together – although “ghost writing” might be more accurate since the pleadings and legal briefs were signed by our senior partners.)
But I did stop writing for the public. Danny Fajardo understood why and let it go. The following years were a blur – knotty challenges, dramatic defeats, tiny triumphs, job hunting and job hopping – from Iloilo to Mindanao to Metro Manila. In short, NPA – no permanent address. (The yarn that I was a ranking something in the underground movement – an NPA commander or an ideologue of the Communist Party is much too flattering to be true. Once, when a retired General and I found ourselves on the same side of the political fence supporting the same candidate, he joked about this, knowing full well it wasn’t true, and I quipped, only half-jokingly: “Well, General, if I were a strategist for the opposing side, you’d all be dead.”)
I came back to Iloilo in 1994 after years of playing Cartaphilus (or Ahasuerus, among other names for the “Wandering Jew”), got elected Senior Provincial Board Member in 1995 and assumed a political position in government again. Danny Fajardo, already a colossus in local media, and several friends publishing or editing other local papers asked me to pick up the pen again. Ooops, wait, I said, who gets the right of first refusal? The decent thing to do was to give preference to Danny, since it was Panay News that carried “The Bottom Line” during the Dark Ages. (“The Bottom Line” by then had been appropriated by some other people.) Guess what – they all agreed to have my column (by whatever new name it might have) syndicated among their publications! What joy! What an honor! What a headache. I said no, thank you.
I wasn’t playing coy, nor leveraging for some advantage or special privilege or benefit. It simply didn’t feel right.
I explained that having been elected to represent my constituents, I had been given my own orator’s soap box and a forum where I can express my views and ideas, champion my advocacies, defend my positions and even sell my inanities and insanities, not with full congressional immunity but at least with some color of privilege. I can join cause with those who are like-minded, oppose those I disagree with, engage in deliberations, debate the debatable, and vote for or against measures according to my conscience and the best interests of those I represent.
I refused to write publicly because that would have given me an unfair advantage over my unpublished colleagues in the Sanggunian. So if I lost a debate and lost the vote as well, what do I do – take up the matter in my column? My media friends were quick to point out that there were senators (!) who were writing regular columns in national dailies. There must be many others doing the same in local papers and even in other media. Yes, I know, I said, but that’s not for me. I will rise and fall and rise again if need be in the forum where I was elected to do what I needed to do.
That decision was prompted by the simplest and most elementary considerations of fairness. And, yes, of ethics. It was dumb, politically (can you imagine the free ride I would have had?), but it was right.
So what am I doing here now? Writing, again. Writing publicly, again. I am not an elected official, at least for the moment. (Hey, guys, can you hear the drums of some distant campaign in the future?) Refused I did when I was invited to write this column. But the pesky, persistent and pestiferous people behind this paper simply won’t give up on me. So, as I said at the beginning, this column is the result of refusals refused.
Writing again. Reminds me of the Frank Sinatra torch song “Drinking Again” by Johnny Mercer and Doris Tauber. They’re not too different, really – writing and drinking. Both can be intoxicating. Well, like politics.
I can almost hear Confucius and Aristotle and other champions of moderation and the “Golden Mean” reminding writers to be careful with the pen for it is a weapon mightier than the sword. Well, in this corner, the least I can assure you is that the pen (or keyboard) will be in the hands of a drinker, not a drunkard.